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Diabetes and Pregnancy: What you need to know now

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Posted at 9:05 AM, Oct 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-15 11:05:58-04

During pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes a significant amount of changes, mostly related to fluctuations in hormone levels. These hormones can affect the way a pregnant woman’s body uses insulin, which can put her at risk for gestational diabetes.

What is gestational diabetes?
Although a specific cause for gestational diabetes is unknown, physicians do have an idea. When a woman is pregnant, her body produces hormones from the placenta that help the baby develop. These hormones also interfere with the way the body uses insulin. A pregnant woman can become insulin resistant, and she may need up to three times as much insulin to function properly. Gestational diabetes can occur when the body is unable to produce and use all the insulin it needs during pregnancy, resulting in high blood glucose levels.
What are the risks of gestational diabetes? 
Gestational diabetes does not cause the same kinds of birth defects found in babies whose mothers already had diabetes before getting pregnant. However, untreated gestational diabetes can negatively affect the baby later in life and put him or her at risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
If a pregnant woman has gestational diabetes, her pancreas works in overdrive to produce insulin, but the body does not properly use the insulin to lower glucose levels. The high levels of glucose can cross through the placenta—also giving the baby high blood glucose levels. The excess glucose is usually stored as fat in the baby’s body, which can lead to an overweight baby and potentially complicate the labor and delivery process.
Lowering the risk of gestational diabetes
  • Diet: It is important for any pregnant woman to speak with her heath care provider about a healthy diet plan during pregnancy. In general, limiting sweets and carbohydrate-rich foods is a good place to start.
  • Physical activity: Although it may be slightly more difficult to exercise during pregnancy, studies show that women who remain physically active during pregnancy can reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes. Again, speaking with a health care provider is the best way to determine how much physical activity is necessary and healthy.
  • Losing weight after childbirth: If a woman is overweight after delivery, it may be beneficial to shed some extra weight to help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.